WASHINGTON – A lawyer for President Donald Trump sent a letter to the Treasury Department on Friday, blasting a congressional request for his tax returns and arguing the release of such information would violate the law.
The four-page letter, sent from attorney William Consovoy to the Treasury Department's general counsel Brent McIntosh, seeks to erode the basis for the request made Wednesday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass, and delay the release of six years of Trump's returns until the Justice Department can weigh in on the matter.
Neal gave the IRS, housed under the Treasury Department, until Wednesday to comply with his request. The request will likely launch a prolonged court battle. It is the first such demand for a sitting president’s tax information in 45 years.
"This request is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party because they dislike his politics and speech," Consovoy wrote in the letter. "Chairman Neal wants the President's tax returns and return information because his party recently gained control of the House, the President is their political opponent, and they want to use the information to damage him politically."
Trump, while visiting the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday, told reporters that he had "nothing to say about" the letter from his lawyer bashing Democrats and seeking to delay the release of his returns.
"I got elected. They elected me, now they keep going," Trump said. "I'm under audit. When you're under audit, you don't do it."
Neal, in his request, argued asking for the president's tax return stemmed from a policy interest. He said his role in heading the committee comes with "a responsibility to ensure that the Internal Revenue Service is enforcing the laws in a fair and impartial manner."
Neal said his request was made to investigate whether the IRS had indeed examined Trump's taxes, which he noted is required under the agency's policy.
"This practice is IRS policy and not codified in the Federal tax laws," he wrote. "It is necessary for the Committee to determine the scope of any such examination and whether it includes a review of underlying business activities required to be reported on the individual income tax return."
Along with Trump's personal taxes, Neal demanded copies of tax returns for several other Trump assets, including his trust and his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Trump has refused to release his tax returns, breaking with long-held tradition by former presidents. He has repeatedly cited an ongoing audit of his finances.
Neal is one of only three congressional officials authorized under a rarely used 1924 law to make a written request to the treasury secretary for anyone’s tax returns. The law says the treasury secretary “shall furnish” the requested material to members of the committee for them to examine behind closed doors.
Consovoy argued that while Neal is allowed under law to request tax returns, his request is required to revolve around a specific legislative purpose.
He argues that it's clear Democrats are requesting this information to embarrass Trump and score political points. Consovoy says if this request was solely to investigate the IRS' handling of presidential tax returns, why did the committee ask for returns before Trump was president.
He said Neal's request sought to conceal his party's true motive: "Unconstitutional retaliation against the president."
Consovoy continues, arguing the release of such information would set a "dangerous precedent"
"It would be a gross abuse of power for the majority party to use tax returns as a weapon to attack, harass, and intimidate their political opponents," Once this Pandora's box is opened, the ensuing tit-for-tat will do lasting damage to our nation."
Trump's lawyer asked the Treasury to delay any release until "it receives a formal legal opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel." Consovoy added: "Caution and deliberation are essential to ensure that the Treasury Department does not erode the constitutional separation of powers."
Last month, Treasury Security Steven Mnuchin suggested he would protect Trump’s privacy if he received a request from House Democrats for Trump’s tax returns.
“We will examine the request, and we will follow the law … and we will protect the president as we would protect any taxpayer” regarding their right to privacy, Mnuchin said.
Contributing: David Jackson and Eliza Collins
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'A gross abuse of power': Trump's lawyer blasts demand for tax returns, seeks delay